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Short-term fixes take shape around Fraser sinkhole, but bigger fix will be long, expensive

Construction near the site of the sinkhole on the Fraser-Clinton Township border in Macomb County
Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio
Construction near the site of the sinkhole on the Fraser-Clinton Township border in Macomb County. Crews are now working on a temporary bypass around the collapsed sewer interceptor.

Temporary fixes are starting to take shape for those affected by a giant Macomb County sinkhole.

The sinkhole opened up in Fraser on Christmas Eve. It was caused by a collapsed sewer interceptor that serves more than 300,000 people in 11 Macomb County communities.

Fraser Mayor Joe Nichols says he’s “grateful there was no loss of life.” But there are three families who will lose their homes permanently, and at least 19 others that suffered damage.

“My heart genuinely aches for the three families that are most impacted by this, while I have 19 others that are really impacted, but I’m grateful that they’re going home in another week or so,” said Nichols.

“Long term, we need to make sure that we care for those three families that will be permanently impacted. We have to.”

Incoming Macomb County Public Works Commissioner Candice Miller, whose first day on the job was Sunday, says crews are working on a temporary fix that should take about a month.

It will allow sewage to bypass the collapsed interceptor. In the meantime, Miller asked people in 11 communities to use “just a little less water,” to help avoid direct sewage discharges into the Clinton River. That’s already happened once since the collapse.

“We don’t want to be discharging into the river, right? I mean, we can’t do that anymore,” Miller said. “And we don’t have to do it, if everybody would just inconvenience themselves just a little bit.”

Miller said only then can crews really get into the structure and start investigating the real causes of the problem. She warned that fixing them will be a long and expensive process.

Miller says the county will “explore every avenue” to compensate affected homeowners — and minimize the hit to rate payers, but didn’t make any pledges, saying a lot depends on the state and federal governments.

She also vowed to get to the bottom of how this section of pipe — which had a similar collapse and sinkhole nearby in 2004, and Macomb County purchased from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department in 2009 — has remained in such bad shape.

She also accused her predecessor, outgoing Public Works Commissioner, Anthony Marocco, with whom she competed in a bitter election, of withholding information and forbidding department workers from providing it to Miller’s team.

“I don’t have those answers today, but I’m telling you, I’m going to get those answers,” said Miller.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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